33. Frankly, Brigadier Huntington-Winstanley

Where am I? What day is it? How much sauce did I put away last night? Where’s Brix? Am I still in mortal danger? Will I ever see Manchester again? Mark E Smith’s mind clicked into coherency, his administrative brain reeling out information like the chattering vidiprinter on Grandstand’s Final Score. The Fall frontman carefully scanned the room, head rotating on its soft pillow foundation. There were pockets of light around the heavy curtains, which hinted at bright sunshine and simple normal-life regularity beyond. The walls were white and noncommittal, while above the bed hung a painting of an upland landscape – Lakes, no doubt; scenery, Smith thought. His languid gaze then fell upon a set of eyes: humorous, recognisable, head sideways, body covered by sheets and blankets. Just a head. A head that had escaped a Nazi guillotine.

“A fairly regular weekend for people like us,” croakily concluded the Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson. “If you can wake up on Monday still breathing, you’re up on the deal. You have no worries. You’re a rich man. That’s the way I’m looking at it.”

“Can’t say I’m in full agreement,” Smith murmured with uncharacteristic politeness, his pronunciation softened without his dentures. “We’ve witnessed something that most folk are protected from. What we went through, it’d’ve been safer wanderin’ round Moss Side with just your baggy Eddie Yeats underpants on and £50 in nonsequential notes sticking out the waist. It reminded me of an American tour actually with a freakish surprise at every turn. You don’t know where your next kip’s comin’ from. I’m lucky. I’m better than most at dealin’ with unusual shit. Being psychic, ’avin’ gifts like that, helps. And you have to remember that a lot of our generation’s gone very soft. Me mam and dad would’ve put it all down to experience. Me grandad would’ve treated it like a break and sorted the plumbing out. Eh, we’re not paying for this hotel, are we? Strictly speaking hotels are not in the budget for the band. I was saying that to Rob Carroll other night before… well, before he rode pale horse.”

“Hooky was best man at Rob Carroll’s wedding, you know,” Wilson said, who by now was sitting upright on his single bed, bare feet on the carpet, toes wiggling. “The marriage lasted six months and Hooky… well… Anyway, hotels are tax deductible – your accountant will sort that out. This is a work trip.”

“I do the sums these days,” Smith admitted. “I sort the lot, everything, the whole nine yards. The band don’t know how fortunate they are. They don’t know the bleedin’ half of it. Nice ’jamas, by the way.”

“Thanks,” replied Wilson. “But they’re the same as yours, aren’t they? Ministry of Defence basic, which in its own way is quite alluring. Imagine being the designer of MoD jimjams. I might see if they’ll let me have these as a keepsake. I’ll tell you what, darling, that shiner of yours has come up a treat. You’re lucky you didn’t lose an eye. I can see every colour of the fucking rainbow in it. Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Aye,” Smith gurned, gently nudging the bruise around his eye socket with gentle fingertips. He yawned like a toothless dog, then glanced at his watch on the bedside cabinet: 1.50pm. He took his dentures from a glass of water and placed them in his mouth, then took a sip from the water. “You should see bite marks on my chest from being chewed on by that phantom. You been awake long?”

“Half an hour,” Wilson replied, and he picked up the telephone by the side of the bed. “Hello love, could you send up two strong cups of tea, mugs if you have them, to Room…” and he frowned. “Mark, what room number is this?”

“No idea,” Smith shrugged and walked into the en-suite bathroom.

“You’re Room 13,” said the woman on the phone.

“Of course we are,” Wilson chuckled. “Had to be 13. Did you know that in Italy, 13 is considered a lucky number? China, too. The rest of us idiots… It all goes back to Judas Iscariot. He was the 13th arrival at the Last Supper, meaning it’s not always cool to turn up late to parties. You should remember that. Thirteen wasn’t a problem for Gerd Müller of West Germany, though, was it? That was his number of choice. Ten goals in the 1970 World Cup Finals. A figure that will never be beaten. Please tell me to shut up if I’m boring you, love. I’m boring you, I’ll shut up.”

“Your tea will be around five minutes,” the hotel employee confirmed. “We’ll bring your laundry up too.”

“Clean clothes, thank you, love – many thanks, many thanks,” Wilson smiled and hung up.

The Granada news anchor drew the curtains aside to take in the spectacle of the Cumbrian countryside. The large wooden sash window, condensation around its edges, overlooked the hotel’s car park and a nearby gently curving river. Wilson wondered what fish might be found in it. Salmon, I’d say. The sky was white-bright, with low sunshine causing deep blue and purple shadows from lone trees and banks of bushes. Wilson gratefully took in the view but what he was most pleased to see were the parked vehicles. Civilisation. Safety. The car park was crammed with police Transits, Jaguars and Granadas, along with a number of olive green Land Rovers and a Bedford troop carrier or two. Curiously among the motoring mass sat a pair of identical silver coupé sports cars with what looked like cables attached along the bodywork leading to oversized twin exhausts at their rear. These low-lying cars must have been highly regarded because they had an armed guard. Beyond a copse rested RAF Chinook helicopters, similarly guarded, rotors drooping. Military personnel appeared busy and engaged, and it was clear to Wilson that the hotel was closed to the public. He glanced down at the headed notepaper on the desk. Daventry Hall, Carlisle.

Wilson’s concentration was broken by a knock at the door, from where he accepted two mugs of tea and paper sachets of white sugar.

“We put milk in already,” said the grey-uniformed hotel woman with a distinctly local twang. “I hope that’s alright for you.”

“Very perceptive,” accepted Wilson.

An accompanying staff member then shifted past Wilson to place two large polythene bags of clothing on top of the room’s writing desk. “This is your laundry,” Wilson was told. “All your shoes are still drying out, though. We’ve got them by the fire downstairs. You must’ve been wading through rivers, the state of them. I don’t know what’s been going on with all these police and even the Army are here. We hear it might be a Hollywood film they’re making with Michael Douglas. But you’ve obviously found slippers. We’ve cleaned the clothes as best we can in the time we had.”

Once the hotel workers had departed, Wilson set the hot drinks on his bedside cabinet. Smith opened the bathroom door and marched towards the steaming cup. He shook a handful of sugar sachets and poured three into his beverage. “I’d leave it a bit before going in there,” Smith warned.

Wilson blinked and said, “Fine.” Of course, the bands on his own record label wouldn’t have bothered to issue such a warning. Could it be that The Fall were more cultured than Joy Division/New Order and ACR? Wilson didn’t doubt it.

The hotel’s reception was an ant’s nest of activity with men shuffling back and forth, some in mundane suits, others in camouflage hues, hands clasping paperwork. MI5 and Army footwear shone black. Hotel staff meanwhile seemed to be taking the intrusion in their stride despite being kept firmly in the dark about their six famous guests’ business. Darren Stockdale, the hotel manager, stood in a central position like an Italian policeman directing Fiats and scooters by Rome’s Colosseum. Dark eyes suggested his work shift had begun many hours ago.

The sweet smell of bacon – that wonderful nose-filling aroma – drifted through the ground floor. Before Wilson and Smith had reached the library-styled bar, Brian Clough could be heard providing solid advice about maintaining good health to a gathered group of star-struck soldiers. “You lot will all be fit as bloody fiddles right now,” he jovially spoke at pitch-side volume. “Fitter than butcher’s dogs. But I’ll bet you get pissed when you go out round town, birding it…”

Wilson and Smith de-tuned the Clough bark and strode into the bar, with its dated books on hunting, fishing and country life resting on spotlessly clean wooden shelves. Recognising the North-west duo, Geoff Boycott announced loudly, “Here’s sleepin’ beauties, look. What a sight for sore eyes. And one’s got me jacket on!”

Smith offered no greeting as he entered but Wilson raised a hand in tired recognition. Hungry, Wilson seized a pair of bacon butties on brown bread from a nearby tray – although white bread was by far in the majority. Food had taken on a whole new dimension of flavour following a weekend of near-starvation. Scanning the room, Wilson noted that his erstwhile adventurers were also dressed in clean, dry clothes – although the hotel launderers, despite their undoubted expertise, were unable to remove the deep stains of mud, grass, blood and ectoplasm from fibres. Boycott’s suit jacket being worn by Smith was, in all probability, ruined by Mr Snuffleupagus’s disturbing slaying.

Peter O’Toole and Tim Healy had dispensed with hot drinks and were allowing themselves whisky and lager respectively. Geoff Boycott appeared relaxed, cross-legged, arms stretched along the top of the settee on which he was sprawled, speaking in glowing terms about Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar to a pair of entranced cricket-loving RAF helicopter pilots. For a moment, Wilson realised that he might miss these most alpha of alpha males when their paths eventually diverged – as they must. And yet, as the Salfordian media personality knew, they all had a great deal of difficult information to process. No one would attach any blame if they had been reduced to gibbering wrecks. Their experiences would need to be categorised internally. Despite this, he was astonished at how well each man was coping.

Perched on high chairs at the bar were Captain Wood and Corporal Hart from the top-secret SAS supernatural division in green combat uniform and sand-coloured berets. Smith grabbed a free stool and lifted a finger to the barman, who seemed momentarily mesmerised by the singer’s swollen, bruised eye. “Pint of bitter thanks, cock,” Smith ordered, sweeping his fringe to one side, “and whatever these war heroes want.” Smith took a sip of froth and asked the strapped-up Hart about the extent of his injuries after being shot by a Nazi major.

“Flesh wound,” Hart answered. “I’ll get two weeks with my feet up hopefully – so not bad, considering.”

“You’ll live,” Smith said. “Unlike that German chappy who fired at you in the hall. I’ll bet he had a night to remember.”

In turn, Wood and Hart enquired about Smith’s eye and called a medic across to conduct a careful examination.

Ray Longley and Brian Ward from MI5 Northern Operations, a little-and-large duo in grey suits, approached O’Toole. The baritone growl from the 6’7” giant Longley could be detected amid the hullabaloo of the bar. O’Toole nodded to the information being presented and leant across to his fellow celebrities. “The time has come for our tittle-tattle to be made official and recorded for posterity,” the actor explained. “We are required on stage in five minutes in the Eden Room, so named after the picturesque river in our midst.”

“You seem to know this place like the back of y’hand, Pete, man,” Healy smiled, taking a sip of his pint.

“I’m practically a resident,” O’Toole replied. “Although I find they’re a little strict on the dress code of an evening. They’re sticklers for ties. I mean, this is 1984 – not 1954.”

As O’Toole rose, he found himself suddenly face to face with Boycott. “Ah, just the man,” O’Toole beamed. “You’re no stranger to these parts either, I am led to believe.”

 “That’s correct, Pete, I stayed ’ere once before but under less-contrived circumstances,” Boycott admitted. “But ’ow do you know? Don’t tell me you’re psychic an’ all.”

O’Toole flapped open his suit jacket to reveal a label: James Personal Tailor & Son, Corporation Street, Manchester. “Look familiar?”

“By jingo!” Boycott whooped. “’Ow did you get ’old of that? It went missin’ in 1979 when I did a signing for my book Put To Test.”

“Another coincidence in a long weekend of coincidences,” O’Toole summarised. “Where will it all end, Geoffrey?”

“Well, you can keep jacket,” Boycott spoke from the corner of his mouth. “I seem to be givin’ away clobber like confetti these days. That’s three of us dressed like a world-famous Yorkshire crickeeeter nah – you, me and that moanin’ Minnie Man City fan over there.”

There was little chance of going astray en route to the Eden Room. It was prominently signposted and even if it hadn’t been, Clough, Boycott, O’Toole, Wilson, Smith and Healy, by now in moderately dry footwear, were guided like delinquent sheep by highly attentive military shepherds. White-painted double doors were held ajar by hotel staff and once through these and into the conference space there could be seen a huge rectangular dark-wood table running through the centre of the room. Two large windows framed yet more Cumbrian scenery, which made Smith think that you could easily be overstimulated in these more picturesque parts of the country. He was looking forward to seeing housing estates, Chinese takeaways and orange buses.

Seats were dutifully taken and drinks offered by military gofers. Smith, naturally, wondered if there was any chance of another pint. Clough, Wilson and Healy also opted for pints, while O’Toole ordered a large whisky with ice. Boycott, not in need of alcohol-infused stimulation, poured himself water from a glass jug.

The top seat at the table had been taken by a greying man in his early sixties, slightly saggy at the seams, jowly, in an immaculate made-to-measure pinstripe suit that Wilson assumed – correctly – to be the handiwork of Saville Row. They were joined by a menagerie of men in business attire and camouflage uniforms, some sitting at the table, others taking position on window ledges or perched on plastic chairs by walls. The drinks arrived and finally the Eden Room’s double doors were closed and locked – and as an extra security precaution the curtains were drawn.

Ward leaned forward and studied a large tape recorder that had been positioned a safe distance from the water jugs. Buttons were pressed and Ward broke the library hush by speaking into the machine, reeling off a jumbled code of officialdom followed by the names of the principal attendees in the room and the start time. It was 3.15pm.

Ward reclined in his seat and the senior figure in well-cut cloth coughed to clear his throat.

“We won’t keep you for too much longer, gentlemen, because I know you have busy lives and families to return to,” he spoke. “As you may know, I have previously spoken with Peter O’Toole and I’m delighted that the combined operation between MI5, the SAS and the RAF went well.” He looked around the table before taking a mouthful of water. “I’m John Jones, director general MI5. Now, Mr O’Toole informed us about your unfortunate accidental trespass on Ministry of Defence property last Friday evening, which triggered a set of catastrophic and, dare I say, cataclysmic events. I’m glad to see you are in fine health and have had a chance to eat and take a well-earned bath. Now to fill in a few details,” Jones continued and gestured towards another grey-haired figure of authority further along the table, albeit in military olive green. “Gentleman, I’ll allow Brigadier Peter Huntington-Winstanley to bring you up to date.”

“Thank you, Sir John,” spoke Huntington-Winstanley in clear, loud tones. “The perimeter of Hangingbrow Hall, and thus the security of the site, had recently been handed over to a private company, Avocet, and it now appears that the running of this operation was not up to the standards that were required as per the government contract. Unfortunately you gentlemen managed to cross the few sections of the perimeter that were not protected with barbed wire, etc, in three separate locations. This was, we have been informed, due to those sections of wall and fencing needing repair and the fog we had on Friday the 13th had precluded these repairs from taking place. That’s by the by, the mistake has been made and in all probability the perimeter hadn’t been properly maintained and/or adequate checks made.”

“So we were just unfortunate,” Healy squinted.

“Akin to rolling a dice 10,000 times and each time scoring a one,” Huntington-Winstanley replied. “Almost the exact opposite of winning the pools.”

“Almost the exact opposite of winning the pools,” Wilson repeated. He allowed himself a nose-blow laugh and shook his head.

Huntington-Winstanley continued: “We’ve been inside Hangingbrow Hall before but the supernatural forces we encountered were too great and we had no choice but to retreat. To hear that you six gentlemen spent the best part of three nights in that house of horrors almost defies belief.”

Jones cut in: “As you will be aware, Hangingbrow Hall is the site of highly unusual and unstable energy and it is something we do not fully understand and may never fully understand. It has been far easier to build a wall, section it off and study it from afar. However, it is fair to say that our knowledge of this place has increased greatly following your weekend acquainting yourselves with its morbid sights and sounds.”

Huntington-Winstanley nodded in agreement and said gravely, “This is not a unique site. Other such ‘wells’, as they are referred to, exist in six other locations on the planet and likewise these have been fenced off and hushed up. Before the Second World War, when the British Government knew little about Hangingbrow Hall and its grisly secrets, Adolf Hitler was made aware of its existence by correspondence with a Swiss businessman who went by the name of Twisteaux – T-W-I-S-T-E-A-U-X. Gerhard Twisteaux. We know this because we have the letters.”

“Murdered his wife and kids,” Smith stated, “as well as half of Elizabethan Cumberland.”

“It would appear that a family gave him an air of respectability, for his own gain,” Huntington-Winstanley pointed out, “although he was not the natural father of those children. Hitler made it a priority to investigate the building’s force further and this only increased once the Allies began making significant gains in the War. Twisteaux became a country squire of sorts. Diminutive and with firey red hair, there is documentary evidence of his presence going back centuries but the name alters every so often. Twisteaux was a recent alias to woo the Germans. The name derives from German folklore and an ancient figure – Tuisto, T-U-I-S-T-O.”

“The fourth son of Noah,” Wilson spoke. “He was keen to let us know that – for a while anyway.”

 “Indeed,” said Huntington-Winstanley. “This would have sat well with Nazi religious beliefs of the early 20th century. We think he’s a historical con artist, born maybe 2,000 years ago, who’d stumbled upon a ‘lucky charm’ and by incredible chance and for whatever reason settled on the site of a well. The next nearest one is Siberia. His real name is something of a mystery, but even since yesterday’s events we’re building an ever-stronger picture. Analysis by a specialist team has conjured the name Malcolm Ead from parish records going back to the 1400s.”

“He had a term for his magic wand – the Receiver,” Clough added. “He must have had a decent supply of Brasso because it was so well polished you could comb your hair in front of it.”

Huntington-Winstanley scribbled in his pad, then said, “Such lucky charms are, as you would imagine, extremely rare but they do exist. We know them as bonus fortuna, which I believe is Latin for ‘good fortune’. How many are there? We don’t know. Are they naturally occurring? We don’t know. How do we know that Twisteaux had one? He told Hitler as such in code by letter. The British government would like one, which was why we were very keen to get into Hangingbrow Hall… as well, also, to rescue you people.”

“Ah right,” Healy grinned and threaded his fingers on the table surface. “So we were, what’s the word… expendable?”

“I wouldn’t have left without you, smiler,” O’Toole cut in. “Remember, these people did a grand job getting you out of clink. You had no chance.”

“These devices don’t come onto the market very often, Mr Healy,” Jones added. “They’re incredibly desirable. Once found, their owners are loath to let them go and they learn, sometimes over a millennia, how to get the most from their acquisition. They will be secretive. But this individual, Ead, Twisteaux, he was a troubled soul and he kept a very low profile.”

“So are you saying there’s a handful of people on the planet who’ve been walking aboot for hundreds of years with one of these devices stuffed in their pockets?” Healy enquired.

“Absolutely,” Huntington-Winstanley nodded. “And whatever the power is – or was – beneath Hangingbrow Hall, it may have been drawn to the device’s presence and allowed Twisteaux to set up shop, as it were.”

“He ’ad rub of green,” Boycott commented. “A proper wrong ’un. He needed ’is pants pullin’ down and given a real good ’idin’.”

Huntington-Winstanley narrowed his eyes at the notion and decided a nod would suffice. “A clever and manipulative individual, he used his home as an execution point for the local authorities – possibly a corrupt bunch themselves who were pleased to outsource this service without asking too many questions. Over hundreds of years Twisteaux had the time and inclination to learn about a whole host of subjects, including it would seem German folklore and whatever history Hitler was spouting to his political favourites during the Nazi Party’s ascendancy. Twisteaux had been made aware that Hitler was motivated by black magic and supernatural fantasy. Twisteaux’s ownership of a copy of Germania by the Roman historian Tacitus lent credence to his claims of being a wandering German demi-god. How did he get a copy? It’s most likely a very good, very convincing fake. These things show up from time to time in private collections and Twisteaux was very well connected in the realm of antiquities. We also know that a gateway – possibly the gateway to Hell, or ‘a hell’, if such a fantastical notion exists – was located in a part of the house. Monsters in the cupboard of the worst kind.”

“Them kids, what poor buggers,” Boycott seethed. “They’d ’ave been bloody terrified. I feel ’onoured to ’ave watched that swine Twisteaux’s pathetic, comedic death.”

 “Now,” Clough spoke, lifting a finger into the air, “he said the Receiver gave him the ear of the old gods in the centre of the bloody earth or some claptrap like that.”

At this fresh information, there was a low-level buzz of interest in the room.

“The old gods?” Huntington-Winstanley quizzed and began writing a few words in his notepad. “Did you pick up any further information about this?”

“Twisteaux and the Erics were discounting Christianity,” Healy replied. “They reckoned their old gods were the real deal and the Receiver was a communication object, y’knaa, like a walkie-talkie to these monsters.”

“Aye, this ’orse brass of ’is might’ve granted ’im endless life,” Boycott said, “but ’e dropped it. I suppose if you’re alive for 2,000 years you’re gonna be in wrong place at wrong time at some point.”

“Little man syndrome, if you ask me,” Smith grunted. “And a total psycho. But could he have really been 2,000 years old?”

The oversized Longley from MI5, sitting directly opposite Mark E Smith, shrugged: “It’s possible – but you say he’s now dead. And the Receiver. What happened to that?”

“Buried under a ton of rubble,” Smith explained. “Then sucked up into the centre of the bleedin’ earth by how it looked from the chopper when we escaped.”

“What are your thoughts of these so-called old gods?” Huntington-Winstanley asked. “Do you think there’s anything in it?”

“Twisteaux called them ‘Them’,” Healy said. “They were believable enough when you were just about to be presented to them as a gift after being beheaded. And that’s what was in store for us, like.”

“But we only had Twisteaux’s word for it,” Wilson answered. “He’s not what you could’ve called an accurate witness, as we discovered. He admitted to us that he had no links with a Biblical heritage. Still, the Germans went for his view – until the end, that is. Can you hoodwink the dead? It would seem so.”

Longley pushed a black and white photograph across the table showing a small individual in a smart suit, cleanly shaven, at a Carlisle fête in the 1920s with a maypole standing tall in the background. “Does he look familiar?”

Smith gazed at the picture and passed it to Wilson. “Definitely little enough,” Smith admitted. “Frizzy hair. What’s he doin’, the Peter Bowles routine in To The Manor Born?”

“Before the war he would occasionally host soirees in the grounds of Hangingbrow Hall to ingratiate himself with local community leaders,” answered Longley. “The main reason for this was so he could access communications – the post office, namely. He would send letters and telegrams to Germany via a contact in Switzerland. That’s how he met his wife, Sarah, and her children. Trips into Dalston for the post office or, less regularly, Carlisle.”

Wilson held the image close to his eyes to study the head shape of Twisteaux captured in time. “Could be him, I suppose,” he said and passed the photo to Clough.

Clough scrutinised the image with a strained face but it quickly infuriated him. “I don’t bloody know,” he admitted. “If it was in colour we could tell instantly – him being ginger and all that. Anyhow, he got what was coming to him.”

“What we know for sure is that the place was crammed full of the dead,” Wilson continued. “As you say, it was an execution spot in the middle ages, and he offered the deaths of these criminals to the old gods – which is something he’d drone on and on about endlessly. But his story didn’t add up for me – and let’s not forget, he hoodwinked the Germans. We were playing cricket downstairs in the main hall when we came across a menagerie of bodies in a wall cavity.”

“Aye, that’s right, bonny lad,” Healy nodded. “When Geoff was batting and caught a full toss. Put it straight past me and into the wall.”

Jones smiled with disbelief and looked up from his pad. “You played a game of cricket… in Hangingbrow Hall?” he asked. “Indoors? How did that go?”

“I reached ’alf century, flower,” Boycott was quick to reply. “I’d ’ave got undrid I reckon if we’d ’ad more time.”

“That was when the ventriloquist’s dummy tried to consume myself and Tony Wilson,” O’Toole added, waving a flamboyant hand. “We all made a run for it.”

“We understand that Twisteaux tried his hand at ventriloquism to ingratiate himself with Sarah and her children,” Longley spoke. “He called it Mr Fortescue.”

“From previous excursions we have witnessed, upon goading, the entity known as the Gatekeeper,” Huntington-Winstanley added, “which Mr O’Toole tells us you have also seen.”

“Seen?” answered Boycott. “We were practically on first-name terms by time we left. And what abart German graves in garden?”

Jones turned to Huntington-Winstanley, received a nod, and then looked back at Boycott. “German graves – a forward group prior to an invasion. Mr O’Toole mentioned this to us.”

“We thought there was possibly a German landing party that was repelled,” O’Toole said.

“It seems that there may have been plans afoot for a full-scale invasion at the border on the west coast,” Huntington-Winstanley regaled. “According to paperwork Mr O’Toole had read, Hitler had eyes on Grizedale Hall as a German headquarters for the UK, not Hangingbrow Hall as such, which instead was to be a laboratory. Grizedale was an elite prisoner-of-war camp where officers were kept. Cumbria was damned nonsense from a tactical point of view.”

“Not if you had Irish ports and the Isle of Man already in the bag,” O’Toole reasoned. “That is also information I happened upon.”

 “It’s a pity you weren’t able to remove these documents from Hangingbrow Hall,” Huntington-Winstanley glared. “Get the experts to look them over.”

O’Toole reached below his chair and pulled a carrier bag up onto the table. He then placed a set of yellowed papers on the wooden surface. Squinting at the print, he said, “Excuse my poor German, but Westküste:Militäergeographische Angaben über England 1943. The rough interpretation is West Coast: Military Geographic Information About England. It’s all in here. Even how the Germans should converse in the local butchers. I do apologise, I should have handed these to you last night. They were drying on my radiator.”

“Good heavens!” Huntington-Winstanley jumped and seized the papers. Scanning them rapidly, he frowned and beckoned over an underling who had been standing by a wall. “Have these despatched to the National Archives, quick as you can. Take them personally, and take somebody with you.”

The door was briefly unlocked and the chosen delivery man hurried into the hallway with the papers.

“The buried soldiers were Brandenburgers, Germany’s best-of-the-best,” Jones explained. “They arrived by air. Came in by glider – bits of it are still in the grounds. A storm had whipped up and they had a bumpy landing. Some died, some obviously survived and when the invasion was postponed, they remained to oversee the building of the annexe. And when the War went against them, they stayed.”

“Captain Wood and Corporal Hart of the SAS Supernaturals have already given us a full run-down about the goings-on at Hangingbrow Hall and the internal state of the building and its underground annexe as of early this morning,” reported Huntington-Winstanley. “Could you corroborate their story that the ‘spirit’ of Adolf Hitler was spotted, and was operating in tandem with a…” and Huntington-Winstanley looked down at his notes, “Major Walter Schröder – a Nazi in his mid to late-40s?”

”Where do you want us to sign?” Clough replied.

“Wilson interviewed Hitler and your fellow Twisteaux,” Smith added, “in front of a [and he switched to a cod American accent] live stoodio audience.”

“Interviewed?” spluttered Jones, unfolding his arms. “Please explain…”

“It was beyond madness,” Wilson declared. “And a career high, if I’m being honest. Adolf Hitler. Who would have imagined? He was a typical politician too, evading every question. Not so much World In Action, but Underworld In Action.”

“When you say ‘interview’,” Jones said, “how did this transpire?”

Clough interjected: “They had him in this gymnasium with a crowd. A makeshift TV studio. Not exactly Parkinson on a Saturday night but I have to say that Tony here wasn’t half bad. Hitler and that little sod Twisteaux were on a stage, along with that busybody with the dots in his name. Don’t ask me to pronounce it!”

Peter O’Toole sat transfixed. “What a party!” he spoke. “I wish I’d stayed put.”

“TV studio?” Huntington-Winstanley questioned. “And they… recorded the proceedings?”

“With 1960s equipment,” Wilson nodded. “A four-tube camera. Black and white, I’d say. Then some chefs were poisoned by Pot Noodles in the audience. Pandemonium broke loose.”

“Poisoned by Pot Noodles?” Jones jumped. “What the blazes?”

“Ah, that would be from our 1979 mission,” Huntington-Winstanley sheepishly confirmed. “We suspected there were people on the site, personnel getting in and out somehow, and we thought that laced Pot Noodles might have wreaked havoc among the young workers there. They were all the rage in ’79 if you remember and there was some evidence to suggest that whoever was at Hangingbrow was eating food that was supplied locally. We spotted what looked to be teenagers in uniform from reconnaissance photography. We fly a Canberra over the site once a week. One very detailed image showed a bin with packaging of Bird’s Dream Topping, Ski yoghurt and Findus Crispy Pancakes – all British packaging. No sign of it the following week but it was a lapse on their part. We knew a Pot Noodle would be like catnip to a young man. But things quickly got ‘on top’, you could say. We departed rapidly but left a few of the poisoned Pot Noodles on site. You obviously unearthed a few. Would have killed you if you’d eaten one.”

“Well it got us in a spot of ‘hot water’, you might say,” Healy spoke. “For poisoning their cooks, they were going to knock our blocks off – with a guillotine. Pete and these SAS gadgies got us oot in the nick of time, y’knaa.”

“How did you end up back at Hangingbrow Hall?” O’Toole queried. “Could you have not gotten over the perimeter wall further along from the cliff?”

At this question there was a great deal of squirming and exhaling before Healy narrowed his eyes and said, “I think we were always going to end up back at the hoose, Pete, man. We walked for hours and hours in a never-ending downpour and there we were, back again. Soaked, drained of energy, tired to the point of total exhaustion. Shattered. So in we went, but not out of choice.”

“Things went south from that point on,” Smith told. “Led by the Devil’s compass.”

“So…” Healy sighed, “we then had a fight to the death with this meat-eating kids TV elephant that had been conjured by Smithy’s imagination somehow. How we got through that, I’ll never knaa.”

“Then we were attacked by an evil tree that me and Geoffrey were trying to cut up for firewood in a thunderstorm,” Clough recalled. “We managed to get the tree absolutely piddled before it was ripped up from the ground and blown away. We were riding our luck at that point.”

“True enough, Bri,” Geoff Boycott nodded. “Tree were tryin’ to eat you like a fish-and-chip supper. Then you fell through floor to that factory compound where they were keepin’ whales for fuel fo’ future Nazi aeroplanes – so they could bomb New York.”

“Whales?” Jones leapt. “The sea creatures?”

“Christ, I’d almost forgotten about the whales,” Wilson said, covering his face with his hands.

“Kept in big aquariums,” Smith reported. “Fuckin’ cruelty on an unimaginable level.”

“Down there, beneath Hangingbrow Hall, you had the living and dead co-habiting – and they were being financed from abroad,” Wilson added. “They had a ready supply of people being ferried in from all corners of the globe. They were happy to admit that. It was the embryonic Fourth Reich.”

“But how were personnel getting in and out?” Huntington-Winstanley asked. “There must be evidence somewhere.”

The question hung in the air like a barrage balloon before an urgent rap at the double doors tore fast-working minds from any potential hypothesis-building. Jones glanced towards a pair of guards at the entrance and gave a nod. The doors were unlocked and in strode a red-faced soldier in camouflage colours and muddy boots. He made his way towards Jones and Huntington-Winstanley and grandly saluted. “We’ve found a supply tunnel, sir,” he revealed, out of breath. “It’s on the coast and seems to run all the way to Hangingbrow Hall. Solid construction with a railway, electric locomotives and wagons. Around 50 men gave themselves up, mostly German. One of them was hysterical, shouting, ‘Avocet! Avocet!’ We’ve taken the prisoners to RAF Spadeadam for questioning. Unusually,” and the soldier shook his head with the nonsense of what he was about to say, “they were transporting a sperm whale under a damp tarpaulin sheetsinland. An Icelandic whaler had been seen in the Irish Sea the day before, and we have had news from the Admiralty that Conqueror has stopped the vessel in British waters.”

“Icelandics were big Nazi supporters in the War,” Smith told the room. “That’s why the Brits and Yanks invaded. None of this surprises me.”

“Thank you, Corporal,” Huntington-Winstanley said to the messenger and the merest hint of a smile appeared on the brigadier’s face. The pieces of the jigsaw were falling into place.

The soldier saluted, turned and marched out, and once again the double doors were closed and locked.

Jones lowered his eyes, skip-read his notes and asked, “What happened to the Gatekeeper?”

“It ate ‘Itler,” Boycott announced. “It were like a Dobermann pinscher. Then it buggered off back to its lair with that Jerry major in its big gob. It got both of ’em.”

“And did the NSAF Tactical Anti-Spectre Rifle perform to standard?” Jones asked, looking along the table to the SAS contingent.

“Yes sir,” Hart replied. “The Dobbin Destroyer took out one of the spooks – the possessed dummy. Turned it to ash.”

“And Twisteaux?” Huntington-Winstanley questioned. “What happened to him?”

“A cracked lintel crowned him,” Smith answered. “I’d told him – told him the house needed some urgent repairs, including that lintel, but he wouldn’t have it.”

Huntington-Winstanley glanced down at his paperwork and then fixed Wilson with a stare. “Mr Wilson, could you tell us who Ian Curtis is – or was – and why he was present at Hangingbrow Hall?”

Wilson sat back in his seat and placed his knitted hands behind his head, as if lost in thought. He gazed at the ceiling and then rocked forward. “That’s a very good question,” Wilson eventually spoke. “I’ll keep it short because you don’t want the entire history of Factory Records in all its details – although it is a fascinating story. Basically, we go back, Ian and I, right to the start of the label. His band Joy Division released two albums on Factory and Ian was the singer – and oh boy, what a singer. On the verge of hitting the big time, he topped himself, just after making one of the greatest LPs ever to come out of the UK – and although Mark here doesn’t agree with that statement, history will prove me right. All the records that U2 are selling right now, Joy Division should be selling. Bono actually rang me after Ian hanged himself to tell me they’d be taking the idea of Joy Division forward. To me, they sound nothing like Joy Division, but that’s just my opinion. I’ll send you guys a 7” of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” so you get the general idea. As to why Ian was at Hangingbrow Hall, I can only guess.” Wilson paused for a moment. “Maybe he thought he owed me one.”

The young MI5 operative Brian Ward opened an A4 envelope and placed a collection of colour photographs on the table. “Air reconnaissance images taken at first light this morning show that Hangingbrow Hall has gone. All that is left is a crater. Whatever has stood there for 500 years or more has vanished. It would seem that whatever evil was lurking at that site, it couldn’t cope with the combined force of Brian Clough, Geoff Boycott, Peter O’Toole, Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith and Tim Healy. The Americans are very interested in meeting you. They have some difficulties at a site in Nevada and have made enquiries as to your availability.” Ward then looked towards the back wall before once again focusing on the faces around the table. “Do you gentleman have plans in the coming weeks? This could be very lucrative.”

Clough firmly shook his head. “No chance. I’ve got to get back home. We’ve a game on Saturday against Norwich.”

Boycott appeared similarly unimpressed at the gruesome prospect. “I want to play for Yorkshire for another season, not go chasin’ spooks round globe. This was a one-off as far as I’m concerned. A bit unusual and not wi’out its interestin’ points, but not to be repeated.”

“Yeah, we’ve got Del Amitri at the Haç this weekend,” Wilson stated, rolling his eyes. “The Haç – Haçienda – anightclub I co-own in Manchester. Well, it’s more of an industrial experiment than a club. So a holiday in Nevada and a battle against the evil dead is actually fairly tempting.”

“I’m seeing Del Amitri at the Haç this weekend,” Smith grinned. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m a massive fan.”

“Fuck off, Mark,” Wilson said.

“Ha-ha-ha!” Smith pub cackled.

“Well, I’m going to see my mate Dennis Waterman at the weekend in the Big Smoke,” Healy explained. “We’ve been pals a few years, me and him. I’m in Minder later this year. So count me out.”

“I’m going to America to kidnap my son,” O’Toole said apologetically. “And I’m a little old for all this phantom-ferreting.”

“Fully understood, gentlemen,” Jones smiled, wondering if he’d heard O’Toole’s response correctly. “You are, of course, bound by the Official Secrets Act and you are forbidden from speaking a word of what has transpired. If it is acceptable to you, you will also undergo what we call ‘counselling’ with a trained therapist to help you through your experiences.”

“Counselling?” Clough frowned: “I’m fine – I haven’t got time for any of that new-age stuff. We’re in the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Cup. That’ll keep my mind busy enough.”

“I’m putting it down to experience,” Smith said. “Taking a leaf out my folks’ book. If I feel down about it, I’ll go and see my pals down the pub and talk about football, their messy divorces and the dolly bird that works in the bookie’s.”

O’Toole flapped a dismissive hand. “Not necessary for me on this occasion. Sleep is my grand healer. And there is no greater evil on the face of the earth than the frankly ridiculous film I’m involved with. Supergirl – please give it a miss.”

Boycott, Wilson and Healy gave brief shakes of the head.

Ward leant in towards the tape recorder and spoke, “Meeting concludes at 3.55pm.” He pressed the stop button and began rewinding the spool.

Healy drained his pint and wiped his mouth. “Don’t suppose anyone caught the snooker results on Friday night?”

An orange fireball sun hung low in the western sky, staining elongated clouds with glowing brush strokes of vivid colour. It was a crisp winter afternoon, although the abject gloom of New Year could still be detected in the air. It would be a chilly night ahead, not that this would cause undue discomfort for either the Nottingham Forest manager, legendary Yorkshire cricketer, former hellraiser, indie record label co-owner, edgy singer or TV actor de jour. Huntington-Winstanley and Ward led the way through the car park, breaths trailing in Cumbria’s nip, threading between parked police cars and chunky Army vehicles. Finally they reached two gun-wielding guards standing watch by the pair of bizarre-looking fastback cars that Wilson had earlier spotted from his room.

Huntington-Winstanley halted and raised an arm. “So gentlemen, as you have signed our forms to keep your tongues firmly tied, I think we are safe enough to show you a few gadgets we’ve been trialling in the more exotic regions of MI5 before we let you get on your way. Even Ian Fleming would be surprised by the complexity of this project. If you have a few moments,” – and Huntington-Winstanley raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

The guards stood aside to allow the visitors a closer inspection of the pair of sleek, silver two-door coupés.

“They’re Opels,” Clough remarked. “German Vauxhalls, really. Very nice too. Eh, one of these might replace my missing Merc! I’m not sure I’d appreciate these cables running along the bodywork, though.”

“You’d need to be careful driving one of these around, Mr Clough,” Ward explained. “Get some decent speed going down the M6 and you might end up getting robbed by a highwayman. ‘Stand and deliver!’”

Clough screwed his face. “A highwayman? How do you mean?”

“They’re Opel Monza GSEs,” Huntington-Winstanley added, “with the 1982 facelift. The top model of the Monza series, 3-litre, six-cylinder and fairly spacious inside. Now, as you noted Brian, there are various cables festooned across the bodywork and there are two large vents at the rear for cooling purposes that have been built into the sloping hatchback. It’s the only place they could be sensibly attached – and they are very much needed. Even so, the glazing on the rear window has had to be made bespoke. And they’re a devil to park.”

“Interesting numberplate,” Healy commented. “‘Q’ prefix. Kit car, right?”

“Of sorts,” Ward nodded. “It’s also a reference to the James Bond character. Q… bit of an in-joke.”

Huntington-Winstanley opened the driver’s door of the nearest Monza and squeezed into the driver’s seat. “Yes, Q registered,” he said. “These prefixes are given to kit cars, or cars that can’t easily be dated or cars cobbled together from a number of different vehicles.”

The special ops brigadier placed a key in the ignition and tapped in a code onto a central console. The whole of the interior lit up like a spaceship. “Opel Monza on the outside and the 3-litre engine gives pretty good performance on the open road, but these two vehicles are very special. Do you know why?”

“Do they drive themselves or something, like that talking car off telly?” Smith enquired, pushing his head into the Monza’s interior. “KITT, it’s called. Right load of Yank bollocks.”

“Not quite,” Huntington-Winstanley chuckled. “Self-driving cars are a 100 years away yet.”

“How do you know they’re 100 years away?” Wilson asked, looking confused.

“If you’ve got a minute, I can prove it,” Huntington-Winstanley enticed. “Come on, get in. Hey, Ward, you take the other Monza.”

“Yes sir,” responded the MI5 special agent. “If we’re not going to be long – I’m getting hungry. Pass code’ll still be the same, won’t it?”

“Yes, it’s not changed.” Huntington-Winstanley cheerfully responded. “Just remember to fill out a TTX form when we’re back. You know what Jim Manston’s like.”

Clough opened the passenger door of Huntington-Winstanley’s Monza and flicked a lever on the seat to allow Boycott and Healy to climb into the rear; Brian was a front-seat man. O’Toole, Wilson and Smith shuffled behind Ward and disappeared inside the second car. The back seats offered a surprising amount of space and comfort, although a centrally positioned box in the rear footwell meant legs had to position at a slight angle. Huntington-Winstanley twisted from the driver’s seat and reached with an outstretched left hand to flip a switch on the box by the feet of Boycott and Healy. A small backlit screen on the surface of the box shone and the word TRAVEL appeared on the display. Moments later the engine rumbled into life. Clough was astounded by the amount of buttons and dials, and equally entranced by the lack of dials on the dashboard. Speed was marked with an LCD display – but curiously there was room for four numbers. Clough quickly noticed that tenths of 1mph were also shown after a full stop and also that the car was an automatic.

Huntington-Winstanley’s Opel Monza, headlights beaming and bright, slid through the car park and out onto a narrow road that followed the course of the nearby river. The cars sped to 50mph, which seemed to excite the banks of machinery, whose lights intensified as velocity increased. Once at 60mph, the noise of the Monza’s fuel-injected engine was accompanied by a high-pitched whine. A bend in the road meant applying brakes and many of the internal lights disappeared. Then the cars came to a stop. Huntington-Winstanley snapped a button on the central console and said, “Ward, can you hear me?”

The line crackled and Ward replied, “Loud and clear, Brigadier.”

 Wilson, seated up front alongside Ward, asked, “This might seem a daft question but are these… time machines?”

“We’ve set up a number of safe places in the past and the future,” Ward announced. “Nothing can go wrong.”

Wilson placed his face in his hands – something he was becoming accustomed to.

“Now to actually travel through time, we have to switch on a reactor,” Huntington-Winstanley spoke in the leading car.

“You mean this bugger’s nuclear?” Boycott called out from the back seat.

“Ward?” spoke Huntington-Winstanley into the radio. “Head for exactly 100 years from now. Sunday, 16 January 2084 – 3pm so there’s some light. Now, we’ve already ascertained that this stretch of road is still in existence 100 years from now. We won’t slam into a housing estate or anything like that.”

“I’ll follow you, Brigadier,” Ward replied.

“The problem is, we have to gain enough speed to make time travel possible,” Huntington-Winstanley continued nonchalantly, as if he was about to begin a day’s work on a bus route. “It used to be 130.7mph and we had a special track to reach that speed but we’ve brought it down to 70.9mph over the last six months, which makes life that little bit easier.”

“You’ll never hit 70 round these little B-roads in Cumbria,” Clough exclaimed. “They’re too twisty and there’s farming machinery round every bend in these parts.”

“Opel on the outside, Rolls-Royce on the inside,” Huntington-Winstanley revealed. “Ever heard of the Harrier jump jet? Now, make sure you’re strapped in.”

At that moment, the Monza vibrated and there could be heard a wild hissing from beneath the car. A sudden jolt was felt and a hedge that skirted the road suddenly began to disappear from view. The cars hovered 20 feet in the air before slowly rotating. As the Monzas picked up speed, interior lights danced and the engines began to whine.

“Just need to skirt these telegraph poles,” Huntington-Winstanley helpfully commented.

Boycott gritted his teeth, which accentuated his lower-case letter b pushed through 90 degrees mouth shape: “I reckon where we’re going Bri, we don’t need B-roads!”

The bare chocolate-brown farmer’s fields below blurred as velocity picked up.

“Do you know who’d I’d like to be with us nah?” Boycott spoke.

“Who, Geoff?” Clough wearily replied. “Who?”

 “Dickie Bird…” Boycott announced, and with a neon-blue flash and a crack-crack-bang the silver Opel Monza GSEs on Q plates were gone.